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Staying Home

Making Quality Time

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 23 No. 1, January-February 2006, pp. 30-32

"Staying Home" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents who choose to stay at home with their children. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Mother's Situation

My husband and I have a hard time finding quality time together. I am home full-time and am kept busy with our two boys under three. I don't get much else done during the day, and my husband works a lot of overtime. We see each other for about three hours in the evenings, most of which is frantically spent trying to do just what is necessary to keep us fed and in clean clothes. How can I keep up our relationship as a couple without dropping the children off at the sitter for a weekly date night? Relatives are unavailable. Thanks for any ideas!

Mother's Response

My husband and I have three children ages six, three-and-a-half, and one-and-a-half, and he works a full-time job in addition to having a home business. We don't have a lot of "disposable income." I got into the habit of waiting until I was coming apart at the seams before asking for help. Only then would I desperately call up a relative (last minute, of course) to baby-sit so that we could go out for an hour or two of couple time. Having finally tired of this, I decided that we didn't really need a lot of money, or even a babysitter, to have a "date night." All we really needed was to make the commitment to setting aside time for each other one night a week, without the children. Most importantly, we needed to plan this time, not just expect it to happen by itself.

For us, this means that on Saturday night I cook an early meal for the children, something simple and fast. After they are in bed, we make a dinner for just the two of us, something special that I've been wanting to make but didn't think the children would eat. I have a healthy gourmet book that I've been experimenting with, but frankly, it could be frozen pizzas or macaroni and cheese if you don't feel like cooking. The important thing is that the children are in bed, and you have set that time aside for just you (no work allowed!). The first time we did this, I couldn't believe how good it felt to sit down for the entire meal without having to get up every 30 seconds, and to actually have an uninterrupted conversation. Put on some quiet music, get out the candles if that's your sort of thing, and use the good china if you have it. It's simple, cheap, and all it takes is planning and a little patience. The laundry can wait; your marriage can't.

Another thing that helped me when I was feeling overwhelmed by all the housework was tips at www.flylady.net. It really got me on track! I can't believe how much time I seem to have now, and how much better the house looks and feels.

Janine Condi
Penacook NH USA

Mother's Response

Sounds like you could really use some tips on how to get more of the housework done during the day, so it's not hanging over your head when your husband gets home. I think there are three tactics to consider: chores that can be skipped, chores that can be simplified, and chores your boys can help with.

As to eliminating chores, it all depends what you do now. Does it really matter if the bed is made every day? On to simplifying chores. Maybe you can start dinner in a crock-pot in the morning, so there's very little cooking to do in the evening. You might try making some dinners in bulk, such as casseroles, so some can be frozen for other nights. Laundry can also be simplified. Try designating hampers by color (or whatever other criteria you use to separate the clothes) so that you don't have to sort before washing. Don't bother folding underwear; just throw it into the drawer in a pile (if there's room, of course).

Finally, find ways for your boys to help! A two-year-old can probably get the clothes out of the dryer for you and maybe even drag the basket to your folding location, if stairs allow. He should be able to handle eggs and other cooking ingredients to bring them to you. I don't know how old your other son is, but if he's too small to help, maybe he's small enough to simply be worn in a sling or backpack (preferable if he's at the reaching-for- everything stage) while you wash dishes. Sometimes you might have no choice but to pop him into a playpen to play while you get something done, but for the sake of all three of you having more quality time, it'll be worth it in the long run.

Juno Farnsworth
Burlington VT USA

Mother's Response

I was in the same situation a few years ago. My boys are now three-and-a-half and five, and it does get easier as they get older! We, too, were not interested in hiring a sitter to go out, and found that the time in the evening was our time to be together.

What I found worked best for me was to get as much housework done during the day as I could, so that when my children went to bed I could spend those couple of hours with my husband. I know how hard it is with two toddlers around, but there were things I could get done while home with them. First I divided my chores into two categories: things I could do while they were with me and awake, and things I could do only while they were cared for by someone else or sleeping.

I would do everything I could to do the chores in the first category while I was home with them during the day. I could get a lot accomplished first thing in the morning when everyone was contented. This was often done with the younger child in the sling and the older child "helping." Even as toddlers, my boys loved to do things like put the clothes into the dryer and shut the door, or sweep with their little broom while I swept with mine.

I also made peace with the fact that while I was there to meet all of their needs, I was not there to entertain them all day. Often I could play with them for a few minutes to get them interested in an activity and then slip away to get something done. Sometimes they would fuss for a short time for my attention, and I would reassure them that I could play with them when I finished. I was always impressed by the creative things they came up with to entertain themselves. They are now very good at entertaining themselves and never complain that they are bored.

It helped to have good safe areas for them to play in where I could keep an eye on them while I worked. I was able to child proof our deck so that they could play outside on it while I watched them through the sliding glass door. I usually started to prepare dinner several hours early by doing it in short spurts. As I finished each step in preparation, I would clean up so there was not a huge pile of dishes at the end. We also have some teenage girls across the street who I would hire occasionally to play with the boys while I got something done from my "category number two" list.

Teglene Ryan
Arnold CA USA

Mother's Response

We are a bicycling family and find this to be a good way to spend time together. The truth is, I am so bad at riding a bike that we purchased a tandem (a low-end model) early in our marriage. As the babies arrived and grew, we've been through various phases. We found a good-quality, lightweight bike trailer to be a great option for the children to come along, but also allowed us to spend some leisure time together. My husband has a rear-view mirror on his helmet to help with maneuvering traffic, and I have one on the end of my handle bar so I can keep an eye on our little ones.

When our first daughter was an infant, we took 20-minute rides with her in her car seat securely strapped into the trailer. As she grew, our rides were longer and she had soft toys, books, and the very-important snack and water bottle in her side pouch in the trailer. When she was 20 months old we did a very brave thing and took a nine- day bike trip along the length of a nearby river. We quickly realized that we had to take a break after every hour of riding to allow her to nurse and run around a bit. Otherwise she was very good at either sleeping or entertaining herself as we rode the "big bike" together. One day we stopped to pick huge blackberries while she napped in the trailer.

Now our girls are 12 and nine. We recently took a three-day trip along part of the Rhine River. As we loaded the tent and all the gear into the trailer, we couldn't help feeling a bit nostalgic for when it was our babies that were in the trailer.

Like you, we also feel that just keeping the basics of life in place can be overwhelming. It's quite rare to just take a pleasure ride together. But since the gasoline prices are so high, we are using the tandem to run errands now, usually with just pannier bags on the back rack. It might not be a very long ride, since we have to get back to the girls as quickly as possible. But we try to find routes that are both direct and scenic.

Restaurants and sitters are a luxury we've never been able to afford. The tandem has been the greatest investment in low-cost leisure time for us as a family and as a couple.

Carol Hunter
Alsbach Germany

Mother's Response

My husband started working long hours, including evenings and weekends, right after our first child was born. Over the years, we figured out a few tricks to stay connected, even though we had the children in tow.

If we had any spare time together while the children were awake, we would take a family walk so we could talk together. Family picnics were another nice way to "go out" together.

I made a concerted effort to learn and use good communication skills, and my husband picked them up from me. That really helped! We could talk through important issues effectively in a short amount of time, and we felt as though we really understood each other. Those skills definitely strengthened our relationship back then, and still do today.

But, the most enjoyable thing we did was to take the occasional family vacation from work and housework. Our relationship always felt fuller when we spent several whole days together, even with our little children along. Those vacations sustained us. We knew that our relationship hadn't disappeared and that it would feel full again when our lives weren't so exhausting.

Kim Elkins
San Diego CA USA

Last updated Thursday, October 19, 2006 by njb.
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